I had my first basketball assignment of the season yesterday and it came at season’s ending. For the first time in my career I did not shoot a single regular season basketball game. I shot regional tournament games yesterday, four in a row, and all four teams lost. I think I see why I didn’t shoot hoops all year. Perhaps any teams remaining will pay the boss to keep me at home!
Basketball is both an easy sport to shoot and a numbing sport to shoot. There is no prep sport that has more games over a longer period of time. Baseball, by comparison, seems over in three weeks. Basketball drags over four months beginning in November and finishing in February. And that is only because we don’t cover college hoops which extend into March and sometimes even April and pro hoops which never actually end. I am personally very ready for baseball and I hope I get some games. I love baseball. I wish I could go shoot spring training but, alas, that is rather a long shot unless I do so on vacation.
Still, basketball in the autofocus era is fairly easy game to shoot. There is certainly no shortage of movement and collisions and the emotion at tournament time is very high. Now that we are not tied to strobe lighting, you can crank up the motor drive and really rock and roll. This moves basketball from a one shot and wait for the strobes sport into a sport like any outdoor game where you can just shoot. Gotta love that.
As in all sports assignments, don’t tie yourself to a single shooting position. I try to move around and get some angles and, when possible, climb up into the stands and shoot some frames from up high. The catch with tournaments is you may be shooting several games in a row and you have to be constantly moving pictures back for web updates so you have a little less freedom of movement because of the tight deadlines.
Let’s talk about getting stuff and moving it quickly since in this age we have a continual deadline. First tip is obvious; don’t overshoot the games. I generally shoot most of the first half of the first game then edit and transmit which usually takes the half-time and the third quarter. I then shoot the fourth quarter and any reaction/emotion photos that come at the end of the game. I then edit and move those photos which takes me into the first half of the next game. I keep up the process and by the end of the day, especially if I am shooting multiple games back to back, I will end up just shooting during the second half and at the end of games.
That may seem like a problem but it really isn’t. You want to get your action shots done as quickly as possible and then focus on reaction shots during the tournament. The season will be on the line and you can usually, not always, but usually get some good emotion win or lose. The sports pages which have been running action photos all year will eat up the reaction and emotion shots and the action shots will fill the online galleries.
Don’t forget the fans. As much as fans are not part of the event, they are part of the event. Let me explain. The fans are not playing the game so they are not nearly as important as those who are; however, the fans are really invested in their teams, especially the students who come to the games. Yesterday, East Limestone was getting blown out by Wenonah and the East fans were totally engaged all the way to the end. For some odd reason, with the team down by something like 30 points, they began singing the ABC song we all learned in kindergarten. My neighbor teaches at East so I am going to have to ask exactly what those high school kids are learning these days!
Did I mention that editors love fan photos. I have no idea why they are so fixated on the fans, like I said, they don’t play the game, but editors love seeing fan photos. Shoot a few from your games and you will be the photo hero, at least for five minutes or so!
One final thing, over the years I have migrated from shooting basketball exclusively with telephoto lenses to shooting now more frequently with a wide lens, often times from floor level. I admit, I saw other people doing this and didn’t think much of it until I started to really look at the photos. I really liked the players flying through the air with a sense of context. There are tons of great basketball images done with wide lenses. I decided to add this to my shooting and I think it has really improved my basketball work. This gallery is a selection of some of my favorites from the Northwest Regional games I shot Tuesday. Hope y’all enjoy.
There is one pretty nearly universal truth in the newspaper world. A literal photograph will be selected over a metaphorical photograph nine times out of ten, or maybe, ninety nine times out of a hundred. It really takes two things for a newspaper to consistently run metaphorical photos. First, you obviously need photographers who can communicate this way. Second, you have to have visionary editors who will presume their readers have a high degree of visual literacy.
The fact is, a metaphor, by definition, is not literal and the newspaper business is a literal business. We make our money by telling people factual stories and showing people factual pictures. To introduce metaphor into the paper requires some serious guts. The other thing about a metaphor is it must have a pretty direct connection to reality in order for it to be interpreted. In all honesty, I don’t frequently even look for metaphorical photos. Every now and then; however, I do get one.
The photos with this post are a good example. I had an assignment to do a portrait of a Red Cross volunteer from our community who did disaster relief work after Hurricane Sandy. The day was raw and overcast and our Red Cross office is not exactly a place of extraordinary visual potential. When I got out of my car, I noticed the Disaster Relief van sitting in the parking lot. The back windows were huge and the overcast sky was reflecting nicely in the windows. I had and “Ah, ha!” moment and decided to try a portrait.
When I brought my subject out for the portrait the sky had changed, of course, and the scene was less attractive. Still, I loved the metaphorical portrait I could work here. I tried it with flash, a disaster in itself even with the strobe inside the van, and I tried it without strobe. The image was very, very flat and required quite a lot of work in Photoshop to make it look anything like what I was seeing.
Then I shot a lit portrait beside the van which worked out fine. Now I had two images, one I loved and one I liked. Guess which one I loved! Yes, the metaphorical portrait of the disaster relief volunteer photographed through reflections of clouds in a window was my hands down favorite. I turned in both knowing the chances of my favorite portrait running were slim. I was not disappointed or surprised to see the lit portrait beside the van run on the section front. I was delighted and surprised to open to an inside page and see my metaphorical portrait displayed nicely.
Here is a tip when you shoot something that is less than obvious. Sell the photo to your editors before you show it to them. Build some sense of expectation for something that is not “normal.” When they see the picture for the first time they will be mentally prepared for something that is not literal. This will increase your chances of the photo running. If you have enough lead time you can work on your photo editor first and have him help you sell the picture. You have to remember that most section editors and most managing and executive editors did not come through the visual side of the business so it takes a lot for a “word” person to take a visual risk. And, when an editor does take a chance on one of these type photos, make sure to say thank you.
I owe an editor a big thank you right now!
This title is the perfect lead in to me doing my best impersonation of Jagger, but I am going to spare you. The satisfaction issue is one that drives me a little loopy sometimes. I am never satisfied or, perhaps more accurately, I am never satisfied for long. Photojournalism is a weird task master. It drives you and drives you and drives you but never lets you get well and truly satisfied.
I sometimes wonder, when I stop doing this, will I look back and feel like I left stories out there untold? Will I feel like I never got “that picture?” I shoot photos sometimes that I am pleased with but then I want to shoot one better the next time. Two problems with that; there may never be a next time and there may not be one better than that. I know after spending the most part of a year consumed with the coverage of the April 27th tornado and the recovery I felt like I had done a pretty good job. Then I heard about stories I never even knew about, stories that were out there but went untold. Dismay! Frustration! Drive!
That is one of those situations where it may never repeat and even if it did would you want it to? No. No way I would want people to have to go through that again. So I either did it or I didn’t do it. Strange how often my mind wanders back down those pathways searching for what I didn’t do. It is almost unfair. Then there are the national championships. They may never repeat. Oh, yeah, bad example. Scoreboard! Four in a row for the great state of Alabama! Even there, I left stuff on the table, stuff I couldn’t get to, didn’t know about or just didn’t have the energy left to do.
No matter how well you have done, the question is always there, “could I have done better?” Then there is the ultimate Chicago Cubs mantra, “there is always next year.” But is there? That is the question that keeps me hungry. That is the question that keeps me motivated in times when pay is stagnant or falling, raises non-existent and the prospects of staying in this business long term seem dim.
I remember being very thankful for a pretty nice football season in the late 90′s. As it turns out, if I compare that season to now there is no comparison because I am a much better sports shooter now. I look back at my spot news coverage from years past and it seems nearly timid by comparison to the way I am shooting now. Great, right? Well, yes and no. We should all improve year by year but it begets the question, “where and when will I top out and not get any better?” Will age drain my will to keep doing this? Will the lack of money force me to leave this business? Will I reach a point where my skills erode and I can no longer shoot to the level I expect of myself?
Honestly, I don’t know. Pro athletes hit a peak in their careers when their bodies are still strong enough to perform at a high level and they have gained the wisdom of the game and they exist in a special place for a short period of years when they are the best they can possibly be. Then their physical skills begin to erode and time wins. Eventually the greatest athlete is forced to retire. Do you think that happens to photographers as well? I mean, I guess.
When I was a young guy I used to think that a fifty year old was practically in the grave. I am turning 50 this year. I never dreamed that I would be approaching my performance peak at this point in life. Perhaps I am a late bloomer. Perhaps it took me a long time to reach that confluence of body and mind. Perhaps I work in a place where the pace is a little slower than say, the pace at the Washington Post or New York Times. Maybe I am just having a mid-life crisis.
I don’t know how to look back and say I am satisfied. What would it take? A Pulitzer would help! Or two!! But really, what would help me, or you, feel satisfied when we ultimately have to leave this business? I suppose if I knew the answer to that question I would not have to ask it. Since I have had a while to think about this, let me share with you a couple of things that I think might help.
First, ignore what goes on above your head. I can’t control it and neither can you. I used to think I could make myself so valuable I would not have to worry about staying employed and getting raises. Obviously, that was a wrong assumption. It seems like we live in an age that would make Orwell proud especially if he were to look into the newspaper world. Does the marketing phrase, “Exciting Changes For Our Readers” remind you of the doublespeak in 1984? The best thing I can say is just ignore what goes on over your head, don’t let it frustrate you and focus on what you can control.
Next, make the most out of every situation. I don’t think I have left many assignments feeling like I got every picture there was to get. That goal is about as unattainable as reaching the moon so focus on the good stuff in the camera rather than the stuff you couldn’t get. As the old saying goes, the bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush.
One final suggestion, don’t worry too much about how you will feel at the end of your career. (I need to heed my own advice!) You will never attain your ultimate goals if you don’t accomplish the goal that is in front of you today so knock that next assignment out of the park, then repeat on the next assignment.
One final, final suggestion, enjoy the people you are around; the people you work with and the people you photograph because ultimately life isn’t about pictures at all. Life is about people.
Wow, am I late coming to the game or what? I had an epiphany when I was in Florida covering the BCS Championship game this year. All week long I was continually checking social media and getting my news from Facebook. I might chase a link from Facebook to a news site but the news site itself was not my primary source of information. I suddenly realized, late though I came to the realization, this is the way most of America is now getting news. Whether it is Facebook or Twitter or the next undiscovered social media country, the process of disseminating information to the public has forever changed. The first source for information is not the primary source, rather it is the social media networks that lead people to the news.
Picture it this way, when news breaks somewhere in your area, where are you going to find out about it first? Will it be the morning newspaper lying in your driveway the next day? Will it be television? Will it be social media? The most likely avenue is fast becoming, if it has not already become, social media. Television is probably second but it is falling back in the pack. The newspaper is now so old by the time it arrives at your house, breaking news is already stale and in some cases, has already fallen from the daily news cycles in more immediate forms of media.
This morning, I got a call from my boss sending me to an auto accident. I had a nice, hot breakfast in front of me with that second cup of steaming coffee waiting to be enjoyed. I gulped down the breakfast, got dressed in yesterday’s clothes and ran off to the scene. A school bus had been hit by a car causing multiple, but fortunately minor, injuries. I shot a photo with my iPhone, emailed it to an editor who was still at home, updated him with basic information about the wreck and he posted it online while I was still at the scene. I shot stills of the scene with a Nikon D3 and video using the iPhone and then recorded an interview with the bus driver and with a State Trooper using the iPhone before leaving the scene.
That will probably be front page news in the printed paper but it will be nearly 24 hours old by the time people pick it up and read it. I had a photo gallery up by about ten a.m., a video posted and had Tweeted and Facebooked links to the gallery before the reporter could even write the story. We posted continual updates as the injury list grew throughout the morning and I was all done with the story, literally and metaphorically, long before it hit the printing press. That is the essence of modern photojournalism. The fact we still print a newspaper is almost irrelevant as far as it regards the process of reporting breaking news.
What roll then does the printed newspaper play? That, my friends, is the million dollar question. Some places have significantly downplayed the roll of the printed paper with major publications ceasing publication or rolling back publication to three times a week. I was an early critic of such practices. I am now changing my mind in so far as the actual news reporting goes and the immediacy the consuming public demands. The down side is, of course, the loss of revenue and the corresponding loss of jobs. Taken purely as an analytical exercise, I can completely understand how the bean counters would look at the revenue picture and say we have to do with fewer people. Those bean counters have likely never written a story or done any visual journalism.
I believe the role of the printed newspaper in the future will be one of dramatically less importance and will have virtually no breaking news at all. I think the printed newspaper will be relegated to the role the news magazine now maintains. The stories will be more analysis and feature style pieces and less hard news. If you are a photojournalist, this is actually very good news. I think the printed newspaper of the future could really become a showcase for good photo essays and in-depth visual reporting. But that is the future, perhaps.
Back to Florida, rather, when I got back from Florida, I told my boss and colleagues about my epiphany. We all nodded in agreement. The obvious had escaped us. We were all gathering our news in much the same way. We immediately began putting extra effort into our social media on Facebook and Twitter. In the past, we had done very little with social media. Once I saw how social media was feeding me into news sites I immediately saw the crucial need to do the same to get people into our site. We are now trying to Tweet links to every photo gallery and video and do the same on Facebook. It is a matter of visual life and death. If you are not driving traffic to your site you are losing the battle to remain employed.
Below is a link to a very quick hit type video from the wreck this morning. It is not the kind of video work I like to do but it is largely what our bosses are asking for, quick hits from breaking news situations.
I purchased a new iPhone a couple weeks ago. My first photo with the iPhone was shot through raindrops on my windshield which I posted on Facebook. I was so shocked at the amazing quality I quickly incorporated it into my daily workflow. This is my very first smart phone and one reason I wanted the iPhone over some of the others was my comfort level with Apple technology and the photo compatibility the phone brings me. Purchasing a phone with the intention to use it to take photos both personally and professionally started me thinking about the partnership between photography and technology.
It has not been too long ago that I was practically married to strobes. That was a byproduct of having to shoot with digital equipment that required a lot of pampering to produce a decent result. Before that, color film had to be heavily strobed in any kind of mixed light, especially if that film was some form of slide film. If you have been shooting long enough to remember the old days of black and white film photography, you will probably remember using a strobe very rarely. You could just make black and white film do what you wanted it to. With each technological evolution, photographers have acquired a new skill set or improved upon an existing skill set.
I have been shooting with a Nikon D4 now for about 9 months. To say the camera is amazing would be short selling it. I shot the Hartselle Christmas Parade last month and it was just dark. They changed the street lights to these funky, old fashioned looking lights that are not especially bright. I figured it was just going to be too dark to work without a strobe. I dialed up ISO 6400 on the Nikon D4 and took a test image. I nearly laughed out loud. It was spectacular! I shot all night at ISO 6400 and was just amazed at the image quality.
I realized I have not shot with the multiple strobe and Pocket Wizard combo I had become so used to in a very long time, weeks in fact. I realized I really don’t use strobes much at all anymore and when I do I don’t hesitate to set one in the hot shoe and bounce it off of something, even something pretty far away. I realized how much the D4 and the D3 before it have freed me and changed the way I shoot. I literally have the confidence to shoot available light on almost any assignment now and it feels good.
In my mind, photojournalism, especially the news reportage part of it, should be shot as close to reality as possible. Adding light to a news situation should either be so subtle that it isn’t noticeable or it should be so pronounced that it is unmistakable. It is a matter of ethics. Either shoot the strobe so it only does the minimalist work of filling in certain shadows that would kill reproduction, say, in a florescent lit room where the awful under eye shadows and overblown foreheads would create an image that is not one the eye saw, or it should be direct, on-camera flash like you might have to shoot in a night time breaking news situation. What I would not wish to do would be to set up strobes in a way that alters the reality of the room and creates a situation that the general public attending the event would not have seen with the eye.
The new cameras are exciting because they have allowed us to take back reality and not set strobes all over the place to shoot news. Of course, when we do now have to strobe something, it can be done with far less power because the high ISO quality is so amazing now. Obviously, when shooting feature jobs like fashion or food or some portraits, this doesn’t apply. But it is absolutely wonderful to be able to shoot with no flash and not have to worry about image quality and press reproduction issues. We can now work faster, carry less gear and actually do a more realistic job of reporting.
One other thing that the new technology is allowing is for us to switch between stills and video on the same camera body. This is a revolution in visual reporting, of course, that has been going on now for several years. The newest DSLR cameras have such excellent image quality, I suppose you could use the video on any platform. The audio still needs some work but, Wow!, how far we have come in a short period of time. I shot video with my new iPhone the other day and was blown away by the image quality. I mean, the thing is shooting 1080 HD video! Amazing.
Of course, all this technology also creates choices we never used to have to make. Just ast week, I found myself photographing police arresting a couple of bank robbery suspects. I pulled out a tripod and shot from the sticks because I knew I had to get both photo and video and I can’t hold an 80-200 steady enough by hand. Shooting this way also caused me to slightly miss focus on what may have been the best image. We don’t have viewing attachments for our LCD so checking focus on the camera back can be a little difficult. I was slightly out shooting some of the video. It wasn’t a big deal on the video, but it was horribly noticeable in my still frames. I switched back without checking focus and the focus had slipped a couple feet behind the subjects.
We are juggling many things including social media. Our newspaper is really stepping up our online efforts using Facebook and Twitter and I am now tweeting. Me, tweeting, smh. Who would have ever thought. Oh well, it is the next evolution. Actually, the next evolution is getting iPads and using a new app that promises to revolutionize deadline visual reporting. We will literally be shooting, pulling an iPad Mini out of my pocket and transmitting without ever leaving the news scene or the sidelines. What a crazy new world. I have literally moved in my career from shooting only black and white film for an all black and white newspaper to very soon shooting an image and transmitting within a couple of minutes to update the website. We used to have one deadline a day, maybe two if there were a special section or something like that. Now, deadline is, well, now. Welcome to the brave new world of high-tech photojournalism.
If you want to follow my social media exploits, (LOL), you can follow me on twitter @garycos8 and you can friend me on Facebook. If we don’t know each other already, send me a message so I know you are a reader here. The times, they are a changing. The video below was shot on my iPhone. Stunning video from a phone but the sound is a bit spotty.
While down in south Florida shooting the BCS Championship I had the awesome opportunity to talk to several members of the Miami Herald photo staff. I met Al Diaz a few years ago at the SEC Championship. In one of those small world kind of things, his wife’s mother lives in the little town in north Alabama where I live. We have become friends and stay in touch through social media. I also met his colleagues, Peter Andrew Bosch, Charlie Traynor, Joe Rimkus and editor David Walters who used to shoot for the Herald.
All those guys were telling me some incredible stories about chasing great stories all over the world. I had a nice long chat with Bosch who was telling me he has been a combat and conflict photographer most of his career and how he sat next to the fuel tank in an ancient Soviet era helicopter flying across the border from one of the ‘stan countries into Afghanistan with rpg’s zipping all around the chopper. Nice stuff. He must have been bored at BCS media day! Walters told me about his exploits back in the film days running around Central America for several weeks following the Pope and shooting in Panama during the American ouster of Noriega.
I began to feel like a very, very small time, provincial photographer who didn’t belong in that kind of company. My aspirations, even from my childhood, have always been to be the very best at whatever I am doing. I don’t mean I want to be the best in my town or my state. I just want to be the best, period. I know that sounds astoundingly arrogant. That is not how I mean it but I am sure that is how it comes out sometimes. I mean that I want to be the absolute best I can be.
I remember sitting in my car praying one day which means I was really just out there whining at God because I felt like I was trapped at a small newspaper in a small city and I could see no way out. At least, that was the way I saw it. God is pretty wise, perhaps you have heard that. After a while I quit whining and I felt a question rising up in my heart; why are you not acting like you work for the best newspaper in the world? That was a turning point in my career and since that day I have tried to work for The Decatur Daily with the same energy, vision and tenacity I would if I worked for the New York Times. It has made a huge difference in my career and I think it is safe to say that I have maximized my opportunity here.
Then I listened to all these stories and I began to question myself. I remember joking around with David Walters at the media party the night before the game and telling him I had to go get some rest so I could kick Al’s butt next night at the game. He just looked me in the eyes and said, “Good luck with that. I would put my four guys up against anyone in the country. They are that good.” I smiled and nodded and began to doubt myself. Was I really facing off with people I couldn’t shoot with, much less out shoot? I went back to the hotel questioning myself.
I sent my wife an email that night asking many of these same questions I am sharing with you and some I am not sharing with you. It took me several hours to work through the questions. Maybe I am not in their league. Maybe I will get my rear end kicked real good. Maybe I don’t belong on the sidelines with these guys. Maybe I am just a small-time, provincial photographer who really shouldn’t be shooting a BCS Championship. Maybe, maybe, maybe….maybe not.
Somewhere in the dark night I put all those questions to rest. I found my confidence deep inside, remembering a promise God gave me on another quiet night a few years ago. That promise is mine and I won’t tell you that one. Suffice it to say that, when I find myself in doubt, it is the kind of promise I can go back to and put my feet on and feel solid ground under me again. I found that place and I answered my doubts. The Bible has a couple of great verses that came to my mind. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Ephesians 6:7 says “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” One final verse which I remembered imperfectly from II Corinthians 10:12 says, “or we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with [a]some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.”
What I was doing was trying to compare myself to men who have had both the privilege and the curse of working in some extremely adverse conditions; wars, natural disasters, starvation, and death in many forms. Those are situations I will seldom, if ever, encounter in my career especially if I spend my entire career in a community newspaper which seems likely enough. There is no wisdom in my comparing myself to someone who has had the opportunity through much adversity to excel in ways that I have not had. If you stop to think about how we define “great people” you will almost always be looking at someone who had to overcome major adversity to reach their mountaintop.
Could I have done the same thing if I were in the same circumstances? Could I have risen to the occasion and delivered amazing photographs like they did? Well, I would like to think I could but honestly, it is a question that has no answer. All I can do is make the most out of each opportunity that comes my way whether that opportunity is large or small. The answer to my question was a solution I have given you in the blog over and over again. Make the most out of each photo assignment. Don’t cheat, don’t take short cuts, don’t halfway do the job because you are only cheating yourself. The question that needs to be answered is what will I do with the opportunity in front of me right now.
I got up the next morning down in Florida and got my game face on early. It was hours before game time. I was traveling with our sports editor, Mark Edwards, and he must have thought I was nuts. I set my mind on performing to my utmost ability in the BCS Championship game. That was my opportunity. That was my chance to shoot on level ground with the best of the best. That was my opportunity to prove myself to myself. When the dust cleared and I had a chance to look around, I was fairly well pleased with the results. I didn’t get every picture but I got a bunch. I had a pretty pathetic post game but that stemmed from a single bad decision, one I will correct if the opportunity comes up again. Will I ever be the best photojournalist in the world? Highly, laughably, unlikely, but, BUT, I will approach every assignment with the idea that no one is going to out shoot me today. Is that arrogant? Don’t know, all I know is if I don’t go out every day with that mindset someone else will be eating my lunch and in this day and age of the newspaper world, that isn’t figurative language!
I have a selection of photos with this post that are simply some of my favorite pictures. I have no idea how to illustrate a post like this so I just pulled out some favorites. Some are personal, some were made through extreme adversity and some are just pretty but all of them have some meaning to me. Hope you enjoy them.
The state of Alabama has become the state of football supremacy. Alabama has won three of the last four national championships and the one the Tide didn’t win, Auburn did. As if folks in Alabama needed any more reasons to love their college football.
Alabama put a merciless whoopin’ on Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game Monday night. The only thing the Irish won was the tailgate party outside the stadium. Inside, it was all Bama all the time. Now the Irish fans did throw down out in the parking lot. I mean, those folks know how to party. Bammers, take notes.
What happened on the football field was different. Alabama did exactly what I thought they would do in dominating the Irish. I heard pundits all month talking about the vaunted Notre Dame defense and I was not impressed. They talked about their front seven and I was not impressed. They talked about the emerging young quarterback and the dominating linebacker and I was not impressed.
I felt like every Southeastern Conference team has an impressive front seven, I mean, if you don’t count Kentucky! Sorry guys, y’all have the round ball to dominate with. Alabama didn’t score less than 30 points in any game this season except against a truly dominant LSU defense and against Texas A&M, a game where Bama slept through the first quarter and then outscored A&M 24-9 during the final three quarters. Everyone else, including Georgia who had far more athletic defenders than Notre Dame, got steamrolled by the Tide. I have no idea what folks were looking at when they thought this game would be close.
Now, on to the important stuff, the photography. I actually had a really nice action game. Then there was the abysmal post game. Oh my, I could not have stunk more. It seems that no matter what approach I take to covering the post game, I take the wrong approach. Literally, I managed to get two photos of significant players who were not on stage. I intentionally shot from across the field to the Alabama bench to make sure I had the shot of the Gatorade dunk and missed that when a player got between me and the dunk.
Then, when the celebration began, I couldn’t find a single player that played and I mean not a single one. I am in a sea of Alabama players and I can’t find anyone who played a role. Finally, I found a local guy who probably only played on special teams doing a little dance. Couldn’t find AJ McCarron. Couldn’t find Eddie Lacy or TJ Yeldon. Couldn’t find Amari Cooper. Had Lacy not been on stage as the offensive MVP, I doubt I would have ever seen him.
Talk about frustrating! Then, with the game being a blowout, there was not much emotion anyway and when you deal with Alabama they are basically flat liners on the emotion scale and then you have every local TV station on the planet grabbing players and stopping their legit jubilation so they can get an interview. That about makes me want to cuss. One of these days I am going to shoot a post game and feel I did a good job. This wasn’t one of those days.
I felt I had a really nice set of action photos. I was very, very pleased with the game action. I don’t think I could have hoped for more. Wait, there was one shot I could have hoped for, no, two. I would love to have had a shot of Eddie Lacy throwing that poor Notre Dame defender down with one hand. I saw it happen and it was one of those moments that was just pure highlight reel stuff. I was on the opposite end of the field and didn’t have a clear view. The other action image I wish I had is on the front page of USA Today. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made an acrobatic interception down near the goal line and the photo is sweet. I saw that one too, from the work room, on TV, while I was in editing moving pictures! Ahhhhhhhh.
Otherwise, I felt good about what I submitted. By the way, big game like this one, you may wonder how many photos I sent. Last night, on deadline, I moved 62 or 66, not sure which, from the game action and post game celebration. Forty of those were moved by the end of halftime. I came back Tuesday and did a supplemental edit and moved another big batch of images bringing the total of game day images moved to over 150. All those had to be posted in photo galleries as well.
I think we made it to bed between 3:30 and 4 am. We were up at 8:30 am to go back to the trophy presentation press conference. And I didn’t get to sit on the beach, at all. It has been 80 degrees down here and, aside from working where the beach happened to play a roll, I think I had no more than a few minutes of beach time and I was wearing long pants so I couldn’t even get the full effect of sea and sand. I know, poor me.
Everyone seems to think this is kind of a working vacation. Keep the working part and delete the vacation part and you pretty much have it. Today, the “off day,” with nothing to cover but the Saban press conference, I finished working about 5:30. Yeah, vacation. I actually did plan to sit on the beach a little bit today but work got in the way.
Now it is time to go back home to north Alabama and freeze with everyone else. I guess I now understand the whole snowbird mentality. In fact, with my photojournalist income, I figure it is about time to buy a condo down here in south Florida for a winter home. If you are not laughing right now then you clearly don’t know what photojournalists make!
The slideshow below features some of my favorite images from the week. Hope y’all enjoy.
Focus on the process, that is Coach Nick Saban’s key phrase and I think it would be cool to hear him say it at least one more time. Okay, I am being a little facetious. I am sure he has said it about as many times as he cares to and I have heard it about as many times as I care to. But now it is game day. It is time to focus on results.
I got Nick Saban on one side of my brain all calm and talking about process and then there is the other side of my brain where Ray Lewis lives. He is rocking my brain, pumping me up with his pre-game pep talk. I may take the field tonight like Ray does, with all dance move stuff yelling like a madman. Yeah Baby! I am ready. Let’s go kick some butt!!! Oh, wait, I am not actually playing in the game. Okay, yeah baby, let’s go kick some visual butt!
So I am all keyed up and it is still hours before game time. When I go out on the field, and especially during the first quarter, I have to make myself calm down. My heart will be pumping, my blood pressure will be up, the adrenaline will be flowing. Sometimes I get so keyed up I have to reel myself in. It is possible to get too pumped up and actually miss shots. That is where Nick Saban takes back over: focus on the process.
There really is a lot of wisdom in that statement. There is always the danger of losing focus when shooting a big game. I mean, I don’t care who wins. I am not there to win or lose a football game. I am there to shoot and do an excellent job covering the football game regardless of who wins. My problem is not worrying about the winning team or losing team, my problem is not getting too hyped and then not doing my job well.
Perhaps you have seen players who get so energized they are almost playing the game too fast, or they are too tight and the game gets away from them. That happens to me sometimes too. I will shoot and shoot and have nothing. I realize I am pressing too hard trying to make something happen. I have to relax and let the game literally come to me. That is a challenge. I want every picture, I mean, every single one. There is no way that is going to happen. All the big papers and magazines and media organizations will have a bunch of guys out there tonight. I am shooting against teams of photographers and they are going to get pictures I am physically incapable of getting.
I have to focus on the process, focus on doing my job. Man, I sound like Nick Saban now! I have to avoid letting my adrenaline run wild and then wear out too quick. It is a four quarter game plus a post game and I need to be stable and level through the whole process. I can’t burn out after the first quarter. Ray and Nick have to stay in balance in my mind and, all things being equal, I probably shouldn’t do the Ray Lewis dance when I take the field, well, probably not.
I will be testing myself against all these amazing photographers from places like the Miami Herald and the big magazines in Sun LIfe Stadium tonight. I hope I rise to the occasion. I hope I kick some visual butt. I hope I shoot better tonight than I have ever shot before. I hope I am able to use the opportunity to climb to new heights. In a few hours I will know. In a few hours I will have either done well or not. To be honest, there is nowhere else I would rather be than out there shooting next to these guys.
And yes, I will be checking the Miami Herald website along with the AP and as many others as I can think of including those from our state to see whose booty got kicked and who did the kicking. I do hope I remembered to bring my boots!
It has become something of a tradition over the last four years to start the year with a trip to cover the BCS National Championship game. This year it is Miami. I now have a nice collection of luggage courtesy of the BCS, kind of a grand slam of luggage. It all started four years ago on the west coast with the Rose Bowl, moved to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl, then to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl and now in Miami for the Orange Bowl.
To compensate for all the glamor and glitz, the BCS folks stack your day with press conferences which are a tad repetitive. I was joking around today saying we could just past new faces on old photos and have about the same thing. Hard to make a unique photo from a press conference. Today was only round one, maybe round two if you count the arrival at the airport press conference.
The schedules are pretty well managed but everything takes a long time. Want to go to shoot practice? Nice, it takes 30 0r 40 minutes to get there, you wait around for 45 minutes or an hour, shoot for 15 minutes and then ride the bus again for 30 or 40 minutes. I had 15 free minutes today and managed to cram down a sandwich. Did I mention the scenery wasn’t bad. I pounded that sandwich from the back deck of the media hotel overlooking the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.
I know what to expect now but I had forgotten all about the stress. I had to make a run to Walgreen’s for ibuprophen to handle the headache/neck ache/back ache combo. I know my colleagues back in Decatur think I am on vacation. It is only a vacation in the sense that I am not in Decatur. In every other sense it is a jam packed, non-stop, never ending press event that finally culminates in a game. Is it game day yet?
Oh yeah, the fan features haven’t started yet. Most of them will be arriving Friday and Saturday so then we will add fan events to the schedule. Lots of fun but nothing will be worse than New Orleans last year. I am pretty sure part of me is still down there trying to chase assignments down in the French Quarter. To this point, I have worked for two days down here, shot four assignments and moved over a hundred pictures. Each assignment gets its own photo gallery and each photo gallery goes on two different web sites; although, I have had a little help with the web galleries. Each set of photos gets uploaded to three different ftp sites and all that takes time. Below is a sample of some of the work I have moved. If you want to see all the galleries you may visit decaturdaily.com.
Now you have a tiny look behind the scenes from the photo point of view. I know some of y’all are already thinking you would gladly trade places. Nahhh, I will struggle through since it is 80 degrees here and about half that back home so don’t cry for me, I will probably survive. Now where is my drink with the little umbrella in it?
Note to readers: This series features the behind the photograph stories of images from the past year. These are not always my best photos but they are photos that have some meaning to me. Of course, sometimes that meaning is simply the photo was one of my best images.
This photo is, perhaps, my favorite football image of the year. It captures the raw emotion of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel who was propelled to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race by this game against Alabama. If you cover a lot of football you will know the helmet usually stays on the player’s head. Getting quality shots of a player showing his face is not as easy as you might think so I am doubly pleased with the emotion and that I can see his face.
Texas A&M was on a roll in the first quarter against Alabama. The Crimson Tide was coming off of a dramatic win over rival LSU in Death Valley and this game was what you would call a “trap game,” meaning, Alabama could very possibly get caught napping after an emotional win the week before. Alabama was favored in the game by about 14 points if my memory is accurate. Johnny Manziel must not have read the papers.
Manziel had the Aggies up by a touchdown early in the game. Then he added a second touchdown. Then a third and before you know it, A&M leads mighty Alabama 20-0 in the first quarter at home. One of those touchdowns went under review. Replay reviews are times to take a nap or review your images and tag the good stuff. I caught myself napping like almost everyone else while they did the review. Then I noticed Manziel had his helmet off and was looking at the replay on the big board.
I got my camera up and ready. As soon as the ref announced to the stadium the touchdown was good Manziel gave this great reaction, no helmet, and his emotion came through loud and clear. Alabama woke up after the first quarter and mounted a steady comeback. The game tightened. The Bama defense only gave up nine points the rest of the game but it would be too little too late as A&M held on for a 29-24 win and Johnny Football cemented his reputation and legacy in that one quarter in Tuscaloosa. It provided him with his Heisman moment and helped him be the guy on stage hoisting the Heisman Trophy. It helped me too. I got a picture that was widely published both after the game and with the coverage of the Heisman Trophy. And, all’s well that ends well, Alabama recovered from the loss and still made it to the National Championship Game.
This is it; the final installment in the Twenty Moments series for this year. I hope you have enjoyed reading about these photos and the stories behind them. I also hope you have some stories of your own to tell. Go make some pictures!